Learning is more than a 'nice to have' - it's a means of survival.
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You can be a learner or you can be out of business. I’m on a mission to spread rapid learning – that’s the spirit, the skill and the action that can ensure you stay ahead of the learning curve and bring your best self to work every day.
The simple truth is, fast learners win. In the age of overload, you must cut through the barrage of noise and battles for attention and focus on what really matters. And you must be smart and show that you’re smart.
This requires an agile, fast learner mindset that embraces change, pivots and moves quickly. Fast learning requires interaction, engagement and intelligent tools.
Here are five shortcuts to learn more, faster.
1. Passionate curiosity.
Be curious about the world and step into new worlds. This could involve travelling to a new country, learning a new language or simply taking a different route to work. The latest research in Neuroscience shows that you can give your brain a cognitive workout by challenging it with a new perspective or experience.
Ask questions and test out assumptions rather than assume they’re right. Tedx events, Eventbrite and Meetup are popular platforms where new ideas and connections can thrive.
2. Leaders are readers.
Reading across different genres can help you build ripple intelligence. Warren Buffett and his business partner, Charlie Munger are prolific readers.
Ripple intelligence is the ability to see the interactions of different worlds and contexts like ripples moving across a pond. When you read expansively, it stimulates both imagination and creativity. Get Abstract is a popular app amongst those in the know. It provides five page executive summaries of books to read smarter.
Some of the world's biggest entrepreneurs are prolific readers
3. Hedgehogs and Foxes.
How you think is as important as what you think, especially for growing a learner’s mindset. The late Oxford University professor Isaiah Berlin in his book The Hedgehog and the Fox drew upon the ancient metaphor by Greek poet Archilochus to describe the two distinct cognitive styles that can help you build critical advantages into your learning style.
Hedgehogs are left-brain thinkers: operationally driven, detail oriented, logical, and process led. They are essential for running a tight ship. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, is a stalwart hedgehog. You need hedgehogs to maintain high operational standards, compliance, and efficient rules and processes.
Foxes are right-brain thinkers: opportunity driven, led by ideas, and people-oriented. They pursue moonshots, the crazy ideas that might just work.
Richard Branson, the charismatic entrepreneur, is a quintessential fox. Smart learners use the best elements of both to stay ahead. To find out your style check out the apps Lumosity and Peak.
4. Find Multiple Mentors.
Why learn from your own mistakes in business when you can learn from someone else’s? Mentors are indispensable: they provide the insights we are missing and open doors to new connections that might otherwise take years to build.
With the meteoric pace of change, it’s essential for learners to have a private space to reflect and talk through challenges they face. Rockstar Mentoring Group, for instance, aims to provide that and is blazing a trail in the world of startups.
Founded by Jonathan Pfahl, an ex–Goldman Sachs wealth manager, Rockstar has built a reputation for accelerating leadership success for others.
A good mentor will help you bolster self-awareness and emotional intelligence — two vital leadership qualities. Every leader has a blind spot, visible to others but not to themselves. Mentors will help you see your blind spot and also give feedback so that you’re always thinking about what you can do better.
Foxes take a different approach to hedgehogs
5. Stop Managing Time, Start Managing Focus
Learning requires focus. My own poll of 100 people highlighted that 78 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “I struggle to focus on what really matters.” When we operate at such a high level of intensity for too long, we run the risk of running our mental and emotional reserves into the red.
It’s like a ticking time bomb. The brain floods the body with chemicals such as cortisol and noradrenaline. Primitive instincts take over, forcing the brain into fight-flight or freeze behaviors, what the eminent psychologist Dr. Steve Peters calls the “inner chimp”.
For a learner, this can erode objectivity and strategic perspective — essential qualities to maintain for a healthy, agile mind.
To sum up, learning is no longer a ‘nice to have’. It’s a survival skill. As one of my professors used to say, “excelsior”, denoting “ever upward”.